Scenery grounds a story in a particular time and place and is one of the visual elements that most absorbs an audience into the scene with the cast on screen. Carpenters are responsible for building those sets, but the sets are never complete until the crew of painters has taken their brushes to them.
Within the paint department, the most entry-level position is that of the painter. This person works under the direction of the lead painter and paint foreman but has the least responsibility on the crew. He or she will be tasked with prep work and keeping the shop clean, as well as the primary task of painting set pieces, props, backdrops, cutouts, and permanent structures. Prep work can entail sanding, filling, and priming. Other duties delegated to the junior painter may include undercoating and spray-painting. Additionally, this person may be required to use such materials as varnish, plaster, and faux cement treatments. The painter will be delegated tasks by the paint foreman on behalf of the paint coordinator, and at all times must adhere to the design specifications established by the production designer and art director. This person is expected to follow policies and procedures for safety and hazardous material storage within the shop and shall use appropriate personal protective equipment as necessary.
Skills & Education
A college degree in film and television production is recommended but not required for this position. Majors in theatrical design and fine art are also applicable. Coursework should include training in common scenic painting techniques and use of standard materials, as well as proper handling of hazardous substances. Study of traditional drawing, painting, sculpting, still photography, and art history are valuable to this occupation. A successful junior-level painter will be eager and willing to learn from veteran crewmembers and capable of following direction with minimal supervision.
What to Expect
As an entry-level position, professional experience is not required, though standards will vary from one production to the next. Previous work as an intern or on student films is desirable and helpful to seeking employment, as it displays an understanding of the production process and proves that the individual is capable of meeting expectations. Most importantly, a prospective painter must have a portfolio that demonstrates artistic talent as well as an understanding of technique. Small-scale examples are useful, but the paint coordinator or foreman looking at your work is more interested in large-scale projects like sets or stage backdrops. Experience as a commercial or residential painter is applicable, as is previous employment in the theatrical arts. Painters may work as freelance artists or find full-time employment at a scenic studio that caters to the entertainment industry. To find available gigs, you can comb the trade magazines for projects in pre-production. With that information, contact the production office and ask to speak to the person in the paint department responsible for hiring. You wont always get through, but persistence pays off. If all else fails, work as a production assistant can allow you to make contacts within the paint department toward a future gig.
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